For this Monday’s Studio Stuff, I thought I’d showcase another creator whose work continues to influence me. As I’ve mentioned before, I have tons of influences artistically, and I’m not writing about them in any particular order. I’m basically following what my mood dictates and what I happen to glance at on my shelves when I’m planning a post. These posts also aren’t meant to be reviews or synopses, I’m just going to talk about my connection to the work or the creator and how it has affected me.
(And yes, I know I can find better pictures online that are all cropped and ‘shopped to look spiffy, but that sort of defeats the purpose of showing you what’s in MY studio, right?)
I first saw Nausicaa and the Valley of Wind and learned who Hayao Miyazaki was back in my senior year (ish) of college (which would have been the end of 1998 or early 1999). I knew a fellow art major who was a Japanese exchange student. She had asked before returning home at one point if there was anything I wanted from Japan. My first choice was a katana (which I knew wasn’t going to happen), my second choice was some Manga, or Japanese comics. I had grown up watching a lot of imported Japanese cartoons that I loved, but at the time, Manga was not quite as popular in my local comic stores.
When my friend returned, she had an issue of Nausicaa for me to borrow (it was from her personal collection, after all). Not to get into it too much, but (at least as far as I know), in Japan, comics come out in small issue formats, not unlike monthly issues here in the states. They eventually get collected into several hundred page soft cover book formats (which is similar to what you see above). The US comic industry has started doing this, collecting monthly issues into graphic novel format when a story arc has run it’s course. Even though I grew up on the monthlies, I prefer the graphic novel collections, but I digress.
So anywhat, what my friend showed me was a 20ish page issue, the first one, of Nausicaa. I loved it.
Visually, it was breath-taking. The textures, the atmosphere, the details, and the mood captured with simple lines blew me away (and it still does).
It was a very different art style to behold, compared to my diet of American super hero comics. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, etc, but visually this showed me the possibilities. Even without color one can still create drama, stunning compositions, mood, action, a believable world…perhaps even more powerfully because it’s black and white.
I have since expanded my consumption of Miyazaki works. He’s the genius behind Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro, and many, many other amazing animated films. The animated version of Nausicaa is great, but pales in comparison to the manga, in my opinion. There’s just so much story that can’t be told in the limited time constraints of a film.
It’s not just the art that inspires me, though. The story is fantastic as well. It’s epic, it covers a lot of ground both geographically and character development-wise, which is a hallmark of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli (the animation house that is responsible for so many amazing movies). It’s a post-apocalyptic tale (which I seem to have a soft spot for for some reason), humans have destroyed their environment and the earth is covered in an ever expanding, mysterious fungal forest that is releasing a poisonous miasma and is slowly reclaiming the planet. The main character, Nausicaa, is a bit of a sympathetic environmentalist who seeks to understand the forest and the ginormous insects that thrive there, all the while butting heads with the majority of humans who want to fight and destroy it. Plus there’s politics and war going on.
One final comment about why I love Nausicaa and Miyazaki in general: he tells stories in shades of grey. No, I’m not talking about the gorgeous pen and ink work in this graphic novel. I’m referring to the fact that he often presents both sides of a story, opposing view points, plus a middle ground, but never makes it clear who is “right”. It’s up to the viewer/reader to identify with a viewpoint, but I would think he probably wants us to understand ALL the viewpoints. Stopping to consider why people believe what they believe is the key to a more peaceful and fulfilling world.
If you have never experienced a Miyazaki work, do yourself a favor and seek one out. They are much easier to find these days, what with Disney releasing translated versions of his classics in recent years. I HIGHLY recommend reading Nausicaa, you can find it online easily enough, but you can even find it in brick and mortar establishments (if you can still find one) and perhaps even your local library. Tell them Toby’s Brain sent you. They’ll look at you all weird and confused. It’ll be great.